Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

A real voice for Ely

Communities that rely on base metal mining have little say over their future

Posted

Copper-nickel mining advocates are urging the U.S. Forest Service to hold a so-called listening session in Ely to hear what Iron Rangers think about the renewal of two critical mineral leases for the Twin Metals project. It’s the usual political saber-rattling, intended to present area politicians as fighting to give a voice to the communities they represent.

We think the Forest Service would benefit from additional hearings. Holding one in Ely makes sense. Hold a third hearing in the Twin Cities, as well. We are talking about the Superior NATIONAL Forest, after all, not to mention a 1.1-million acre federal wilderness area that is the pride of millions of Minnesotans.

Let’s give everyone a say, but let’s not kid ourselves about who might be listening. When you rely on basic resource extraction as the basis of your economy, you have very little actual say over the future of your community. Iron Rangers should know that by now. China hiccups and the Iron Range taconite mines fall like dominoes, and panic sets in yet again.

Advocates of copper-nickel mining suggest it represents diversification. That’s nonsense. The same global forces that bring us boom and bust in the steel industry exert the same influence on most other base metals. Copper, in particular, is abundant and global production capacity far exceeds global demand, and will for the foreseeable future.

That’s why we’ve never viewed the Twin Metals project as anything other than a distant and highly speculative prospect. Even discounting the extraordinary environmental risks the project entails, the economics are, perhaps, the biggest challenge. What people in Ely or anywhere else in Minnesota think about it is irrelevant. When you opt to go down the mining road, you no longer have a voice. Those who want Ely’s economic future dominated by copper-nickel mining must acknowledge that—were it to happen— the reins of their community’s future would be in the hands of corporate accountants in London who couldn’t find Ely on a map.

If folks in Ely want a real voice over the community’s future, they need to start building that future themselves, which at least one side of the mining debate seems intent on doing. There is real creativity in Ely. There are entrepreneurs creating livable wage jobs, businesses, and institutions that can be sustained for the long run if we protect the assets that make Ely the iconic place that it is. Thanks largely to their efforts, and to the appeal of the wilderness lifestyle associated with the community, Ely’s economy is the most vibrant of any Iron Range city, and by a long shot.

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, all copper-nickel mining has to offer to Ely is decades of continued community division and uncertainty. Mayor Chuck Novak made reference to the divisions during this week’s rally in Virginia, although he seemed to cast the blame for the split on those who oppose copper-nickel mining.

Imagine the progress that Ely could make if the community wasn’t constantly working at cross-purposes? What if people who wanted to invest in a future for Ely that didn’t include a giant copper-nickel mine leaching toxins into the Kawishiwi River, had the certainty that their investment wouldn’t be undermined down the road?

Right now, the community is badly divided over a mining proposal that, at best, is 20 years away, and that, most likely, won’t happen at all. For those who enjoy the Iron Range tradition of battling straw men, that may be just fine, since it provides just one more opportunity to flail against environmentalists, the Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, or any other group that might stand in the way of what some see as “progress.”

But for those who honestly want to continue to build a viable and sustainable economy in Ely, it’s resources and energy very poorly spent.

Comments

8 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Steve Jacobson

But, in the same breath how about those that are against mining instead give full support to it and see how much faster it can happen without all the road blocks! The Iron Range, including Ely is about mining with a nice helping hand of tourism. The problem is that tourism is a six month a year job program at best. As a resident I would like a list of some of those "Livable Wage" jobs that are being created. Are there 10, 20 or 350 potential jobs along with a million man hours of construction and another 300 associated jobs with it?

Thursday, June 30, 2016
snowshoe2

Its ironic that both the Polymet project and the Twin Mine projects main parent company are not even based in North America.

Talk about special interest and long term concern for the area. Those companies have none,as their track record is worse than horrible.

Info is there from many sources from many countries and people they have dealt with in the past.

It is not good.

Open meetings are good,but can be overwhelmed from people on either side. Even tho they may or not represent the total picture of how local people think.

All people of this country have a vested interest in this decision. Maybe more meetings be held nation wide?

I think the Duluth choice is a good one,but could live with 3 meetings or so.

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Steve Jacobson

I guess what I'm hearing from you is that there isn't enough opposition from the area so let's get more people who don't know anything about the area help make the decisions. Recent local elections, which for most part, had the candidates either for or against mining. The mining candidates won overwhelmingly. So, to find more opposition, let's include Duluth and their coalition. Better yet, let's include the Sierra Club as a deciding vote!

This our back yard and we care that it is perserved as much as anyone else.

Friday, July 1, 2016
snowshoe2

In many ways its everyone's back yard,just as Yellowstone National park belongs to everybody. Yes decisions will effect everyone different.

Sometimes many if not all of us forget to look at the total picture. Yes I am guilty of that also.

Getting up in years I look around at the changes in our natural areas and nation wide in just my lifetime most wild areas are gone.

Future generations should be left with a few decisions about if they want wild areas or not.

Friday, July 1, 2016
Marshall Helmberger

Tourism, by itself, is not going to be the salvation for any rural economy. But what we're talking about is building a "quality of life" economy, which encompasses tourism but is far broader. Even current IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips gets this point. He talks about building communities that people want to live in. When you do that, people use their talents and creativity to find a way to live there. In some cases, it's retirees who made a living elsewhere coming to spend their golden years and their pensions here. In other cases, its younger, entrepreneurial sorts who start a business or telecommute. People who dismiss tourism don't understand the distinction here. Tourism brings people to the area, which has some seasonal economic impact, but the bigger impact from tourism is that it informs people about your community and, when it's an attractive place, people want to come back and stay. A quality of life economy isn't just restaurant and dock boy jobs. It's a thriving real estate economy, financial services, construction, building supplies, home furnishings, arts and culture, etc., etc. That's how you create a sustainable economy in a rural area. There are plenty of communities that have done it, and they don't generate a plug nickel from mining. And they don't suffer the boom and bust cycles that keep communities on the Mesabi Range lurching from crisis to crisis. We need to get out of the mindset that jobs are something that foreign corporations create for us. That's a culture of dependency (i.e. Mining Supports Us). If you want Ely to have a healthy economy, forget about Twin Metals. It's pie-in-the-sky anyway. Focus on quality of life and the people and economic opportunity will follow.

Friday, July 1, 2016
Steve Jacobson

I will come clean - I am both an owner of a local business that relies on tourism and I also work in one of the mines. I really enjoy working in the mines. It has given me opportunity to live a nice lifestyle. I have a boat, a four wheeler and a snowmobile. I enjoy hunting out my back yard and have also taken some very memorable vacations. But, as far as the business I own, I do pretty well during the summer months but to tell the truth I hold on for dear life during the winter months. During March and April I generally start paying my bills with my company credit card hoping the tourists will show up again. I will be honest in saying that if business was good enough I certainly would not work a second job twelve months of the year. Also, if business was good enough year round I would probably be spending my winters somewhere warmer but the truth being said it is not. I do not want to see my business fail because of lack of tourists but also want to have a year round quality paying job.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Tom Hartley

I agree with Snowshoe and Marshall. Since the Boundary Waters

are very likely to be harmed by the operation Twin Metals is insisting

won't be harmful it is all of our business. The "my backyard" idea is

bogus, federal land belongs to all of us, every American citizen.

I am retired and worked for the FAA and have no skills to create

good, clean, sustainable industry on the range but there are people

who do. A place has to be a desirable area to live and raise a family

In to attract industries. Another question is when did the

United States become a third world nation where giant foreign

corporations come in and extract our natural recourses for their

profit?

Monday, July 11, 2016
Steve Jacobson

The Ely area has had the last ten years while Polymet and Twin Metals have been trying to get permitted to develop sustaining jobs. I think there has been more than ample amount of time for the jobs to be developed. Just throw us a bone... start a rumor..... anything, but I don't hear of any businesses thinking of relocating or starting up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016